Updated: Jan 23
Over the years, many Christians have labored in study attempting to explain the relationship between the atonement of Jesus Christ and the salvation of mankind. This has resulted in the development of numerous atonement theories. We can always learn more about the atonement of Christ, but my position is that the combination of the principles of the Christus Victor and Moral Government models of the atonement gives us the most accurate picture of what God has done for us through the cross.
God is not an angry deity that must be “paid” before he will show mercy. One can argue that this is not mercy at all. But he does have a moral government that must be upheld for the good of his creation. God’s love is the reason for his law. As most everyone knows, for law to be law, there must be a penalty for breaking the law. We not only need to be released from the power of sin, death, and Satan (which the Christus Victor view of the atonement emphasizes); we also need to be released from the penalty of sinning under God’s moral government. The Governmental view holds that Christ’s death was a substitution for the punishment that human beings deserve because of their sins, but it did not consist of Christ receiving the exact punishment due to sinful people, which is eternal destruction. In fact, this view declares that Christ was not punished at all, for an innocent person cannot be punished. The pain, suffering, and death were real, but the atonement was a willing substitution for the penalty, not the penalty itself.
God is a holy and merciful Moral Governor. In his holiness and love, he must uphold his moral law for the good of creation. When sin is committed, the transgressor must be punished by receiving the penalty attached to the transgression, or the moral law is undermined. Were the moral law to be undermined, God’s government would be undermined. To be just, God must hold wrong-doers accountable. But God loves mankind and does not want us to perish, therefore, he mercifully provided a substitute for our penalty in the atonement of Christ. Since Christ died “for our sins”, the moral law was upheld, public justice was maintained, and God can forgive sinners of their trespasses. In this way, God can be both just and justifier. Christ’s death does not mean that people can sin with impunity, as some claim. It makes provision for the salvation of all in that it satisfied the governmental demands of the law (even more so than the infliction of the penalty on sinners would have) and it allows the wrath of God to “pass over” his followers. It allows God to justly forgive those who forsake their sins.
The Bible says that Christ "bore" our sins. Christ “bore” our sins in the same way he “bore” the sicknesses of people in his earthly ministry. He did not become sick for them. He took their sicknesses away. In the same way, he did not literally become sin or sinful for us, or have our literal sins placed upon him since this is impossible, rather, he suffered as a sin-offering on our behalf, and therefore he was the lamb that “taketh away the sins of the world”, meaning his sacrifice is sufficient provision for the entire world to be forgiven of their sins. That is not the only condition for our salvation, however. The cross of Christ satisfied public justice, but repentance from individuals is necessary for salvation. God will forgive those who forsake sin to follow the Lord Jesus, because of the atonement. The cross is the evidence that God is a loving, merciful, and holy Moral Governor.